An easy-to-grasp version of David Allen’s GTD process. It’s titled ‘for teens’ but I’d recommend it to everyone. A comprehensive yet simple introduction to getting a handle on things to be done, improving productivity and freeing mental space. The processes and tactics are invaluable together, but extremely useful even if adopted in parts. I would recommend everyone to read this book, at least twice.


The art of getting things done

…stressful situations decrease opportunities to think. Your ability to think—to conceive of ideas an make them happen—requires thinking space. If you know how to create high-quality space for thinking, you will be able to get more done, with less energy and less time.

 

“You don’t need more genius.
You need less resistance.”
—Seth Godin

 

The ready state

The most valuable skill today is the ability to think and to manage attention. When you’re in control of your attention, you are able to relax and apply the appropriate energy and focus to whatever it is that you are doing.

 

‘Off’ may feel something like:
- Anxious
- Disappointed
- Stressed
- Nervous
- Failing
- Overwhelmed

The Zeigarnik Effect

…the brain naturally remembers and holds on to anything that is interrupted or incomplete. These incompletions are called open loops.

The brain naturally seeks closure, or completion. Without it, part of the brain will hang on to the open loop until it is closed and there is completion.

Open loops and sleep

As the day ends and your body is preparing to shut down and get some sleep, your brain also starts to rest and seek closure and in doing so, it brings open loops back to your attention for resolution.

Remember, your amygdala does not have a sense of time. It wants resolution now. However, you obviously can’t close all loops and finish everything while you like in bed late at night. As a result, your brain nags you.

 

Control and Perspective

To achieve the ready state, you need two things—appropriate control over and perspective on your stuff.

Control

In GTD, control does not refer to ‘control over.’ You don;t have control over your own life or the life of anyone else, no matter how hard you try.
Instead, we use ‘control’ here to refer to stability, or ‘control within.’ This means that, given all of life’s realities and your current circumstances and situations—all of life’s stuff—you possess an element of control within it, called operational control.

Think of operational control as you do your role as the player of a video game. You don’t have control over the gaming environment or what challenges come your way, as you’re not the game designer. However, you do hold a controller in your hand, which allows you to decide what your character does within the environment.

You don’t control whom the coach decides to play in the game, but you are in control of your own preparation, conditioning and attitude.

Perspective

You must also know where you are going and why.

Perspective is the ability to look ahead, to see where you are going. Perspective is the vision, the ‘why’ behind anything that you choose to do.

…helps you decide what is important and what is not.

The practice of GTD

Gaining Control

5 Steps

5 Steps

Capture

Capture process

Capture process

”Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.”
—David Allen

 

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled
but a fire to be kindled.”
—Plutarch

Stuff hunt

An activity that involves intentionally scanning your physical, digital, or mental environment for anything that isn’t reference, equipment, decorations, or supplies and might need your attention.

REDS

  1. Reference: Info or materials not needed right now but may be needed late. Books, magazines, certificates, etc.
  2. Equipment: Tools/items that are regularly used or serve a function. Clock, phone, furniture, chargers, etc.
  3. Decoration: No functional purpose but reflect personality. Photos, artwork, mementos, etc.
  4. Supplies: Things you use and can get used up. Paper, pencils, post-its, etc.

Warning

The pitfall of distraction is likely to appear all throughout this activity! Stay focused. Put stuff in the bucket. That’s your job.

Stuff hunt - mental space

…try slowing down, put away your phone for a few moments, and let your mind just wander … and think. In those quiet moments, where does your mind go?
Wherever it lands, it will stumble onto an open loop.

Mind sweep

grab some paper to serve as a capture tool.
It can also be helpful to find a space where you know you can have a few minutes without being interrupted.

Start by just paying attention to what has your attention. What is on your mind? What is your brain bringing to your attention? What are you thinking about?

Whatever it is that you discover is on your mind, write it down on the piece of paper.
Don’t worry yet about how you write it or what it is you have to do just get it out by recording in some way, shape or form

At this point in the process, you are not trying to decide where or how to focus your attention; you are just determining what has your attention.

“Paper is to write things down that we need to remember.
Our brains are used to think.”
—Albert Einstein

Trigger list

A trigger is anything that servers as a reminder. E.g. alarms, post-it notes, messages sent to ourselves.
Triggers are meant to get you thinking about the right thing at the right time.

A trigger list is a collection of triggers meant to stimulate your thinking at the right time.

Trigger list example

A trigger list example

To use the trigger list, spend about five minutes reading and thinking through each of the items, called triggers, on the list. If a trigger causes your mind to go to an open loop or leads your thinking to other stuff, write it down.

Clarify

Clarify process

The transforming tool

Pitfalls

Pitfalls will continually attempt to wreak havoc during this step. Many people will actually choose to engage with sources of distraction instead of engaging with the step of clarify.
Why would anyone choose a pitfall? Because checking texts or playing video games spares you from having to do deep thinking and can provide a temporary sense of escape and relief.

Thinking requires attention space and some effort, but the ultimate goal here is to think both effectively and efficiently.

One thing at a time: What is it?

The way this decision-making process, and the transforming tool model itself, works is by taking one item of stuiff at a time ut of your bucket and asking the question ‘What is it?’

Non-actionable items

1. Trash

Any non-actionable item that is unneeded and unwanted.

Questions to help identify trash:

  • Will I truly use it or need it again?
  • Do I have multiples of the item?
  • Could I access this item online if I needed it?
  • Are there any consequences if I don’t have it in the future?
  • Does the item hold any emotional or sentimental value?

2. Checklist

A personalised list, developed over time, to assist with a specific activity.

Triggers for specific situations or describe a collection of steps necessary for success.

3. Someday/Maybe

Anything that you may want to take action on later but doesn’t require any action now.

 

“While procrastination is a vice for productivity,
I’ve learned—against my natural inclinations—that it’s a virtue for creativity.”
—Adam Grant

4. Reference

Anything non actionable that may be needed at a later time.

Actionable items

Two questions to answer:

  1. What does ‘doing’ look like? (What is the very next visible action to take to make progress on this item?)
  2. What does ‘done’ look like? (Will I be done after taking that action? If not, when will I truly be finished?)

1. Next action

The next physical, visible activity that progresses something toward completion. This is what ‘doing’ looks like.

 

”Things rarely get stuck because of lack of time. They get stuck because the doing of them has not been defined.”
—David Allen

 

Does your next action include a simple action verb?
Is it specific enough to know where it happens?
Is it specific enough to describe any tools needed?
Is it easily started without any further thought or decision-making?

 

If there’s a task that you’re having trouble getting started on, consider that you might have yet to identify the single next action.

The two-minute rule

if you can complete an action in less than two minutes, do it right away.

2. Project

Any outcome that is going to take more than one action or session to complete.

An outcome is a description of what you want to be true when you are finished. ‘Finished’ describes the point at which actions will no longer need to be tracked. It is what successful completion will look like.

 

If you are clear on where you are going (outcome) and have a concrete next step (next action) to get there, you have what is necessary for both control and perspective.

Create the conditions

…while you are not in control of all the stuff that enters your world, you are in control of how to engage with it.

When defining outcomes, the key is to focus on the things over which you do have control.
If you identified an outcome that is within your operational control, then success is very much up to you. We call this process creating the conditions. You can create conditions for things to happen, even if you don’t have complete control over the results.

Outcomes and control

Outcomes and control

How often to clarify

Every 24-48 hours go through the inbox bucket and clarify.
Schedule a block of time, preferably a space as well. Do it when you are most fresh to think.

Organise

The organise process

The organise process

Actionable items maps

Calendar

Store information about the places you need to be and when to be there, about the things you need to do at specific times, and about things that are happening on specific days.

Holds three types of information:
1. Time-specific actions (appointments, etc)
2. Day-specific actions (submission deadlines, etc)
3. Day specific reference items (birthdays, etc)

Next action list

A complete list of actions that do not need to happen at a specific time or in a specific location.

Next actions list

Next actions list starts with a verb

It is a collection of descriptions of what ‘doing’ looks like, so keep it as simple and as clear as possible.

Projects

contains all the outcomes, or
what ‘done’ looks like on anything that you have committed to doing that requires more than one action step or more than one session to complete.

Non-actionable items

Someday/maybe

Cluster this list by topics: movies to see, places to visit, books to read, friends to get to know…

Only need to consult this map when looking for a creative spark or have generated some open time and space.

Checklists

Basic principle is to organise your checklists in places where you’d use them.

Reference file

Don’t keep them back in the inbox (email) or bucket (physical). Create a space for them… a reference folder on cloud storage for digital stuff, and a file drawer or bin for physical stuff.

 

Once decisions are made in the clarify process, don’t waste any time making those decisions again. Parking the results of decisions maximises effectiveness with the least amount of effort.

The calendar keeps track of data and time specific actions The next action list keeps an inventory of all the visible next actions. The projects list keeps an inventory of larger outcomes to track, The someday/maybe list keeps a bank of ideas to explore when control is achieved. Checklists help establish new habits. Reference material is filed so it can be easily retrieved.

Reflect

To review and update the contents of your maps to bring them up-to-date with your current reality, so that you can make informed and effective choices.

Reflect step

The reflect step

  1. Daily review (What do I need to do?)
  2. Weekly review (Am I clear? Am I current? Am I creative?)
  3. Levels of Focus review (Where am I going? Why?)

Daily reviews

The daily review brings a sense of short-term, day-to-day control.

Calendar

Where you need to be and when…

Next action list

What to do and what not to do today…

Checklists

Relevant to things you are doing today

Weekly reviews

help you maintain control by clearing your head, keeping your system current, and stoking your creative energy.

1. Get Clear

Do a capture-clarify-organise on the stuff accumulated over the week.

  1. Collect loose papers and materials - look for stuff that is not REDS
  2. Mind sweep
  3. Get ‘in’ to empty — clarify and organise steps

2. Get Current

  1. Review previous calendar entries
    Capture any follow-up actions from the passed calendar events
  2. Review upcoming calendar entries
    Capture actions to prepare for upcoming events
  3. Review next actions list
    Mark off completed actions, add any new actions
  4. Review projects list
    Ensure there’s at least one next action associated with every project
  5. Review relevant checklists

3. Get Creative

  1. Review Someday/Maybe
  2. Be creative and courageous

Engage

To clearly, fully, and confidently do what you know you should be doing in the moment.

Engage step

The Engage step

When you are not scrambling, panicking or stressing, you have the opportunity and energy to actually focus on the people and the circumstances around you.

… you may often find that the best use if your time, focus and energy is not taking action. This is called clear space, and it is becoming more and more rare in the age of connectivity

Wherever you are, be all there.
—Jim Elliot

Spotlight

Four criteria

  • Location (Where am I? What is something I can do in this location?)
  • Time (What can I do in the time I have available?)
  • Energy (What can I focus on and do with the energy I have?)
  • Priority (What is the most important for now? Today?)

“I am rather like a mosquito in a nudist camp; I know what I want to do, but I don’t know where to begin.”
—Stephen Bayne

Summary

5 steps

The 5 steps

Levels of Focus

Levels of focus help capture, clarify, and manage focus and perspective over time.

Levels of focus

Levels of focus

Purpose

It begs the simple but significant question ‘Why?

Purpose

Purpose

This model is intended to help you continually clarify who you are at each level. What’s most important is that you slow down and recognise and capture your current thinking.
Doing so can raise the right questions and help generate some appropriate next actions.

 

“There’s a hunger in me that always wants to be creating and orating, telling people something and giving them information and getting feedback. There are so many questions that I’m trying to ask, and I’m still so far from being done saying that I gotta say.”
— Chance the Rapper

Vision

The Vision level involves imagining what you’d like to have be true in the future.

Vision

Vision

Think big! Think wild success! Write notes, generate ideas, cut out and tape pictures, make lists, insert quotes and capture any other piece of information that represents success for you.
Your goal is to fill up the map with your ideal future—from who you will be, to whom you’ll be with, to what you’ll be doing.

 

“Success is about dedication. You may not be where you want to be or do what you want to do when you’re on the journey. But you’ve got to be willing to have vision and foresight that leads you to an incredible end.”
—Usher

Goals

Goals are larger aspirations with a somewhat more immediate time frame that help you to determine where to put your focus and attention.

Goals

Goals

This level can also assist in assessing whether goals connect up to your Vision and Purpose.

 

“I don’t focus on what I’m up against.
I focus on my goals and I try to ignore the rest.”
—Venus Williams

Areas of Focus

This level enables you to track the major parts of life that continually need your attention that you are committed to maintain.

Areas of Focus

Areas of Focus

Because the areas of life that you’re responsible for shift and grow over time, this level becomes very dynamic as you grow older.

Creating, reviewing and maintaining your Areas of Focus will help achieve a sense of clarity, balance and calm.
Identifying and managing your Areas of Focus will also help others build trust and confidence in you.

Pause and reverse direction

Take a couple of moments to look back at the content captured for each level. Start from the last…
- As you look at your Areas of Focus, do they trigger any new goals you might want to add to your Goals map?
- …
- As you look at your Areas of Focus, Goals and Vision maps, are there any edits or adjustments you’d like to make to your Purpose map?

On the way down, the writer part of the brain did the work. As we went back up the levels, the editor part of your brain was engaged.
When you get ideas out of your brain into an external system, you are able to reflect on and review them.

 

“Great things are not done by impose, but by a series of small things brought together.”
—Vincent Van Gogh

Tips

  • If feeling a bit stuck in life or are facing a problem or tough decision and need more clarity on which direction to go, try moving up the levels to gain clarity.
  • If you’re feeling that you know where you want to go but are having trouble getting your idea into motion or don’t see the results that you were hoping for, try moving down the levels to help generate and translate the idea into actions.
  • Add Levels of Focus maps into weekly review. Use them to serve as triggers and ensure you continue to ask yourself questions at different levels.

The Planning Map

The Planning Map

The Planning Map

  1. Define purpose (‘why’), principles and standards
  2. Outcome visioning
  3. Brainstorming
  4. Organising
  5. Identifying next actions

Purpose and standards define the boundaries for getting from where you are to your outcome.

Maximise purpose while staying within the standards.

The Planning Map

The Planning Map

Purpose/Guiding principles

Purpose: Why am I doing this?

Standards: What are the rules?

Vision/Desired outcome

Describes the goal in detail. What will wild success look and feel like?

Note to self on proof reading:

“I’m not going to submit a first draft. I’m going to proofread my initial draft and also have someone else proof it. Then I’ll make updates and hand in my second or third draft.”

Brainstorm

Generate and lay out all the pieces.

Organise

describes the components, categories and order of events needed to achieve the goal.


The Lab

Sports Checklist

Draft a checklist of items you need for your sport. Remember to include items that need signatures.

List of Gift ideas for Family and Friends

When you see something or get a clue from a person that might make a good gift, capture the idea on this list. You’re not committing to it. You are simply creating a list of gift-giving options to consider in the future.

Casually ask your friends and family about favourite gifts that they’ve received.
Add any ideas or inspirations to your Gift Ideas list.